On Our Fourth Day In Space

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

As Earth descends into nuclear apocalypse, a man and a woman make it into space alive.

On Our Fourth Day In Space


 

On our fourth day in space, Takao asked me what it felt like being the last woman alive.

We strapped ourselves to what qualified as our module’s dining area: a cramped corner with a foldable aluminum table bolted to the wall. I passed him a pouch of sludged food and a plastic straw to suck on it.

I said I hadn’t thought about it. He said that was a boring answer, especially for an astronaut with a medical degree.

I asked him the same question. His answer did not interest me; I just wanted to make the best of the situation. We’re stuck with each other for the last three months of our lives, after all.

 

 

I checked our food portions. 98 pouches. 49 days. I typed the data on my laptop computer.

I peered out at Earth. Europe faced our window. No flashes this time, the first that had happened since we checked into orbit. We had no indication of the ruin from space. From up here, Earth looked serene. Peaceful. Down below, it’s everything but.

Takao finished checking our systems. Everything worked fine, he said: air supply, water, air pressure, the likes. Our deaths were on schedule, and with the way we preferred. Bleak, but at least we had control over that.

 

 

Each step I made on the treadmill made a rubbery thud. I focused on that.

Bonk. Bonk. Bonk. Bonk.

I had nightmares again. Explosions. Gas clouds. Missiles. Infants confused and crying. Parents crying, just as confused.

Bonk. Bonk. Bonk. Bonk.

I tried not to think about it. The slender metallic explosives and the spectacle they made when they landed. Shockwaves. Debris. The War of Everyone, it said on the broadcast.

Bonk. Bonk. Bonk. Bonk.

What were they even doing with that many? Two dropped in Nihon to end the World War. It was atrocious. Hadn’t the world had enough blood and destruction then?

They just had to build more. And more. And more.

Then came the point when the world’s peace had to be anchored to those munitions.

All of that, of course, fell apart.

Bonk. Bonk. Bonk. Bonk.

 

 

Our scanners picked something up twelve days later.

Takao came over from the treadmill to double-check. Sweat beads flew in all directions as he bent over to the control module. He just checked the instrument, he said. That wasn’t a malfunction.

We thought for a second what it could be, then he realized it. He floated towards a window on the module’s starboard side. I followed.

It was hard for me to see, but Takao knew what to look for. He pointed at it through the glass. Debris. Hundreds of pieces of large metallic shards floating away from Earth. Sunlight reflected off of them as they spun away.

I remembered when they broke the news to us. Someone shot the ISS down, they said. No one knew whose missile it was. Bombs flew away from one Power’s territory and dropped to another’s. Everyone had been too busy defending what they had if they could.

We only had to get away from Earth, they said. The War of Everyone is the very last one. Get a few people out, at least. That was the only concern at that moment.

 

 

Aoi, called Takao a month into our desolation. I knew what he meant.

I sat on the co-pilot seat of the control module. A small compartment to my right contained the captain’s manual. I fetched it and opened it. He called some commands and pressed some buttons. I pressed some buttons on my side with the help of the manual. We turned two red knobs at the same time to end the sequence.

Then we waited.

When the bombs started falling, everyone on Earth scurried. At first, we looked for shelter, but that didn’t work out. On the third day, no one even knew where the rain came from. Too many flew that day, and on the succeeding days. Countries with defense systems eventually spent theirs. Then they were open for barrage.

Everything became clear, eventually. They did not call it mutually assured destruction for nothing.

Other countries knew that, so everyone tried flying some people up. Everyone also knew all the others would try, so they shot each other’s rockets down.

We received very specific instructions. We should only attempt communication, they told us, after thirty days in orbit. They estimated this to be the time when the world would have used up most of its missile stockpile. If by some miracle an outpost on Earth found a fully working radio and intercepted our relays by accidents, they’d have no means of blowing us out of the sky.

We played a looped message and relayed it all over the world’s orbit. It had nine different translations of the same message: This is the Japanese spacecraft Nipponho; we made it out.

Four days we let the message out in the open. For four days, we had no response.

No other craft made it out.

 

 

In the dream, I sat inside the bulkhead of the ship.

Ten, nine, eight, a countdown dwindled through the speakers.

Takao sat strapped beside me, beads of sweat on his face. He looked afraid.

Seven, six, five, it continued.

Mother whispered in my ear. Run, she said. I’ll be fine.

Four, three, two.

But what waits out there? I asked.

Blast off.

As above, so below.

 

 

Every two weeks or so, Takao and I would play a game. The rules were simple: Takao, in a fit of delusion, reasoned out how humans made it out alive. I would prove him wrong.

This week, he thought of how the blasts hadn’t affected people from less habituated places on Earth. Far away from the population centers, he reasoned out, no one would have thought of bombing them. It would have been too inefficient. There would have to be survivors in those parts of the world.

I answered no, it was not inefficient. In fact, I told him, it made equal sense to bomb both populous and non-populous places. When I bomb the countryside, I get to destroy the farms, the fishing villages, and the energy plants. I would submerge in firestorms and radiation the most basic resources a country needed to survive.

I would have bombed their allies, too, I reasoned, no matter how small they were. Any alliance left would have supplied the country with food, or clean water, or energy. The decimation of a country required the destruction of their friends as well.

He called me a maniac. We never repeated the game after that.

 

 

I felt exhausted. We had only been eating a third of our recommended food intake. No one planned for us to last this long; they only packed us food for a month. We couldn’t really blame them. Food had been scarce.

Takao had stopped running on the treadmill. He wanted to preserve his energy, he said. Might make him last longer when our food ran out.

I followed suit two days later.

I counted our supply. Twenty pouches. Ten days.


 

Fourth day of the War of Everyone. Nationwide calls for pilots, astronauts, and engineers came. I remembered Mother asking me to come. We ran around Chiyoda to Fukagawa and back, ransacking what remained of stores for food and clothing. There weren’t much.

We came to the agency. Few people came. They’d lined up the rockets, eight of them standing tall on the horizon.

I asked Mother if she’d be fine. Her wispy frame wore away more the past four days than it did the last four years. She wheezed constantly, the tubes in her fragile lungs trying to expel all the debris she inhaled. Her spine hunched like the curve of a monastery bell.

She smiled and cupped my face with both hands. I’ll be fine, she said, and kissed me on the cheek.

 

 

Takao told me to take his food pouches. I stared at him as I sucked my slush of food.

People believed dying of starvation is painful. For a long time, the pangs of hunger had been the basis for what dying with an empty stomach would be like. They’d think of hunger as something painful, so dying from it had to be worse.

It’s actually quite the opposite. The human body is well-equipped for these conditions. Once totally out of food and water, instead of feeling pain, the body experiences euphoria. A brilliant defense mechanism so the brain won’t have to think of the organism’s impending doom. The body gets a boost in energy for about a week or two as it eats itself. When it’s done, lethargy sets in. A little while further, the person slips into a peaceful coma until they die. No pain and suffering involved.

I did not respond.

I know you’ve thought about this, too, he said.

I told him to stop, but he went on. The longest EVA in history lasted for almost nine hours, he told me. He wanted to break that. Take one of the ship’s pods, he said, and use it to drift away into space. He’d tether his suit into the pod, which had two weeks’ worth of oxygen. Then he’d spacewalk until he dies.

I stared at him. Hunger. He probably was delusional. His brain hadn’t had the nutrients it needed. Even the smartest engineers needed food. That’s all it had been. Delusion.

I sucked on the straw of my pouch. He had to be delusional.

 

 

Takao spent the next three days plotting. Apparently, his ambitions grew the more data he collected. Two weeks’ worth of oxygen on the module, one week minimum before he starves. Enough fuel for six days. Travel from our ship to the moon is five days. The longest logged moonwalk had been 7.6 hours, and only 12 men had ever been. Go figure.

On his last meal with me, I asked what all of those were for. Humanity wiped itself away from existence. No one to see those broken records, no one to record or celebrate them. Moonwalking and spacewalking seemed pointless to me, I told him.

It is pointless, he said. Everyone’s dead. There’s no point in doing anything anymore, he continued, even us staying alive. No one waited for us, so why bother? Humanity had gone, and no one had to look at the actions of anyone anymore. Complete freedom, he said, the most complete there had ever been.

He wasn’t delusional. I was.

 

 

Takao’s module separated from the ship two days later. For a second, the clink of the metal clamps connecting the pod and the airlock resonated all over the ship. Then the silence of space blanketed everything again, a stillness I have found comforting and sweet.

I peered over the board-side window as the module drifted off to space. Thrusters from behind angled it on a slight incline against the moon’s general direction. Ten minutes later, Takao emerged from his airlock. Two tethers ran behind him, one connected to the rectangular box on his suit’s back, the other he hooked onto the railings on the module’s exterior.

I remembered Mother, and how she cupped my cheeks with her fragile, wilted hands. I felt alone.

 

 

Nihon peeked at the window one day as I took inventory. I miss it. I miss Mother. Tears welled up in my eyes, warping my view. I touched the glass of the module window. I could swear if I just reached out...

I stopped myself. If I reached out, I would see darkness. Starvation. The remains of thousands of missiles launched into the atmosphere. A winter caused by soot wedged in between the layers of the planet’s atmosphere.

That’s it. That’s me. I’m the last woman alive. I didn’t know what to feel about that. It didn’t matter, in the end.

I counted my food packs. Ten pouches. Ten days.


Submitted: September 18, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Christian Jerome. All rights reserved.

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